You’ve Got to Do the Job

by Dave Schuler on May 30, 2014

The first words of Article II, Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution, the section that describes the role of the president are:

The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

That means that the first job the president, before his role as commander in chief or preacher from the “bully pulpit” is the direction and management of the apparatus of the federal government. There is a connecting link among the poor management of the development of the Healthcare.gov web site, the IRS scandal, and the emerging VA scandal. It’s that the president wasn’t particularly interested in any of them. I don’t think he caused any of them but it’s patently obvious that he allowed them.

Peggy Noonan articulates the problem more pointedly:

Barack Obama is killing the reputation of government. He is killing the thing he loves through insufficient oversight. He doesn’t do the plodding, unshowy, unromantic work of making government work. In the old political formulation, he’s a show horse, not a workhorse.

The president’s inattention to management—his laxity, his failure to understand that government isn’t magic, that it must be forced into working, clubbed each day into achieving adequacy, and watched like a hawk—is undercutting what he stands for, the progressive project that says the federal government is the primary answer to the nation’s ills.

He is allowing the federal government to become what any large institution will become unless you stop it: a slobocracy.

We only have one president and managing the operations of the executive branch is the primary job of the president. There’s only one person who can do that job.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

CStanley May 30, 2014 at 8:34 am

It’s the post-executive presidency.

Guarneri May 30, 2014 at 8:49 am

“I don’t think he caused any of them but it’s patently obvious that he allowed them.”

Right. He’s not a mechanic, who writes code from 1-3pm relative to the website then grabs his pliers and screwdriver from 4-6 to tinker with the IRS. He’s supposed to be an executive.

But for how many years now (6?) have I said he in fact has no executive experience or acumen – none. It was obvious for anyone who deals in that world and it has been proven out in serial fashion. That doesn’t make him a bad man, it just makes him an incompetent manager. His sychophants have looked past this, apparently because they in turn have no such acumen or care only about electability, policy stance or a nice smile (the Oprahfication of the presidency), and have forgotten that it is, after all and as pointed out in the post, the “executive” branch.

BTW – if one is honest, the presumed Democrat front runner in 2016 similarly has a glossy, but in reality, resume of no substance and no such acumen or track record either. Maybe Bill is a good puppeteer.

Mercer May 30, 2014 at 11:30 am

“He is killing the thing he loves through insufficient oversight. ”

I have never heard anyone say oversight is the President’s job. It is normally considered to be the responsibility of Congress.

Guarneri May 30, 2014 at 11:49 am

“I have never heard anyone say oversight is the President’s job. It is normally considered to be the responsibility of Congress.”

Not within his span of control. And you really don’t want to go to “faithfully execute the law……” now do you?

jan May 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Kim Strassel has deciphered President Obama’s 5-step plan for addressing any and all problems:

1) Didn’t know about it (?????)

2) Express outrage

3) Fire a low-level bureaucrat

4) Launch a long-term study of the problem

5) Months later, dismiss the problem as a) solved or b) has become nothing more than a partisan issue for republicans.

This pattern has been applied to F&F, the IRS, the PPACA implementation, of course Benghazi, now the VA — in just naming the most vivid ones that come to mind. I would also add, that another technique used by this WH is to get out of the way of any blame or accountability, always pointing the finger behind you or someone else that can easily be vilified. This includes anything to do with the so-called ‘economic recovery,’ that’s so anemic, as well as the explosion of instability world-wild under his watch.

... May 30, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I’m just waiting for the day when something happens in the government and Obama knew about it before reading it in the papers. Surely it must happen once in eight years, if only by accident.

Cstanley May 30, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I’m just waiting for the day when something happens in the government and Obama knew about it before reading it in the papers.

At least we now know why it was important to find out what newspapers Sarah Palin was reading. How in the world would she expect to know what was happening in the McCain administration if she didn’t read the right papers?

... May 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm

How in the world would she expect to know what was happening in the McCain administration if she didn’t read the right papers?

LOL, you mean she wouldn’t find out about it from Weekend Update on SNL?

steve May 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

1)The IRS is set up so that the POTUS cannot interfere very much with the IRS. He names the commissioner and that is about it.

2) The VA has been a problem for decades. The current problems are mostly old. The “new” problem revolves around the 14 day waiting period. That time is shorter for a PCP visit that it is in most major US cities. Should they have known it would create problems? Maybe. Perhaps knowing that such a large percentage of VA employees, especially in management, they did not expect them to lie and hide wait lists.

I do find it odd that this is somehow proof of managerial incompetence. We had many similar instances under Bush, and IIRC Clinton, BushI and Reagan, but that did not result in claims of incompetence. Underlings at Abu Ghraib causing problems didnt mean Bush was incompetent. Interior department out partying with people they were regulating. Iraq war management was awful. Wonder why? Reagan had more cabinet level and upper management level scandals than anyone. The S&L crisis grew exclusively under his watch. Lebanon anyone? No claims of incompetence.

3) The health care rollout was bad. I think you can fairly say this was badly managed, but even there you need context. The rollout of Medicare PArt C, not nearly as complex and you didnt have half the country actively trying to sabotage it, was also pretty mucked up.

Overall, I think you have fallen victim to the Big Lie. Is he a great manager? I dont think so, but who was? If you choose to hold every scandal, every action of subordinates against a sitting president, I don’t see much difference between him and other presidents except for the fact that he doesnt have that one big scandal people like to hang on a president.

Steve

Jimbino May 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Neither President nor Congress can do what’s right, so it’s better that they do nothing at all. The best we can hope for now is deadlock for the next 2.5 years.

... May 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Obama came into office vowing to fix the VA. Instead, over five years in, he has done nothing.

And I love the sabotage claim on the PPACA. Were opponents sneaking in at night and mangling the code? Were they pouring water into the servers? Did they hold Obama’s daughters hostage so that they wouldn’t start work until 2013?

No. States opted out as was entirely predictable. At least some states screwed up on their own. The fact that the Administration apparently didn’t want to start work on the exchanges until after Obama’s reelection is entirely on them.

But it’s good to see you finally admit that maybe Obama hasn’t done everything perfectly.

CStanley May 30, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Steve, I could be wrong but it seems that the mismanagement is more widespread now. Maybe that is a function of time and overgrowth of bureaucracies but it’s hard not to see a relationship between that and the very disinterested management style of Obama.

But even more to the point- Obama clearly believes that the federal government can and should do big things, so the onus is on him to prove it to those of us who are skeptics.

And your point #1 is laughable. How many meetings did Obama have with IRS officials during the time that the targeting was going on? IIRC it was around 150.

Michael Reynolds May 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I believe this may be a first: I agree with Peggy Noonan.

Mr. Obama is not the first or worst but he ain’t the best either. Better than George W. Bush? Obviously. That’s like saying he’s better than Zippy the Pinhead. But Obama is not an ass-kicker and he either needed to be one himself, or hire a Jim Baker type to do it for him.

Guarneri May 30, 2014 at 5:40 pm

steve

On the VA I think you are missing the point. It is well established that this is a longstanding problem. The issues are 2: 1) is that Obama, for political gain, made himself out to be a champion of this cause, yet reacted at a snail’s pace and did not get involved with his usual too hands-off and therefore ineffective style (Note the comment I made earlier that its not like he’s expected to have a tool kit on his belt, dive into the weeds, and do this stuff himself) and 2) he follows the same weary pattern with each screw up in his administration of “I didn’t know,” stall, make excuses, blame someone else, especially those nasty Republicans and so on. You may have a different definition of leadership and executive ability than I, but as a serial business owner (and long ago employee) I’ve seen many of these ladder climbers – always near when things are good, never to be found when things are bad, and an excuse maker like a machine gun. Are we really to believe he doesn’t know how the organization called the United States Government works? Dave made a comment the other day – (paraphrased) executives have to be, well, executives and lead. Others can follow, and if neither, get the hell out of the way.

He should have been a Supreme Court justice or something. A manager or executive or leader he simply is not.

Guarneri May 30, 2014 at 5:55 pm

“But Obama is not an ass-kicker and he either needed to be one himself, or hire a Jim Baker type to do it for him.”

I’d suggest he would have been ill-served to be the second coming of LBJ. He needed to do what all real executives do: get the right people around him, set tone and expectations, monitor results to plan and move quickly and decisively when things are not right. He can still do the front man thing in public.

My suspicion is that a combination of inflated ego and no executive experience or sense make this impossible.

PD Shaw May 30, 2014 at 5:56 pm

To quote the underestimable Rafer Janders, “What’s most important to remember, though, is that both sides do it….” I am beginning to suspect that the OTB commentariot does not like this sort of argument.

I believe Dave’s point is that he who wants a greater role for (federal) government, has the burden of demonstrating that it is up to the task. (Though this is not entirely partisan, the GOP tends to support the military more. Imagine how many countries the U.S. would be invading right now, if Iraq had been invaded and transitioned to a liberal nation without a hitch.)

jan May 30, 2014 at 7:52 pm

“Overall, I think you have fallen victim to the Big Lie. Is he a great manager? I dont think so, but who was? If you choose to hold every scandal, every action of subordinates against a sitting president, I don’t see much difference between him and other presidents except for the fact that he doesnt have that one big scandal people like to hang on a president.

Why is it that criticism of President Obama seems to always be deflected by going backwards and re-judging another president’s performance? Dems had a hay day during the Bush era — so much so that their constant ridicule was entitled “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” Any and all mistakes, though, seemed to be fully absorbed by GWB, with no benefit of the doubt, few excuses accepted for verbal flubs, or finger pointing at others who were also responsible for negative outcomes.

For instance, I don’t recall Bush cat-calling Clinton for his OBL faux pas, failing to engage in some of the earlier terror attacks, or the fact the economy was slipping when Clinton left office. Even one of Bush’s most berated moments, Katrina, did not include warranted criticism towards two dems — Ray Nagin and Gov. Blanco — who many said failed to act soon enough in requesting federal help and evacuating people, leading to the disaster that unfolded. Even though their lack of judgment was sizable, the bulk of criticism was nonetheless placed on the president’s shoulders, resonating from that misplaced comment directed to his FEMA director, along with inhumane photos of people suffering and dying from being helped with “too little, too late.”

Even the ’08 financial crash, the sub-prime fiasco, in which both branches of Congress were under democratic control, saw most of the blame laid at the president’s feet. Why is heat given to the House when it involves a republican majority, while a democratically controlled House and Senate escapes the mother lode of any accountability?

As far as having “that one big scandal,” Obama has multiple “big” ones, that have been minimized, rationalized and essentially obscured by an incurious, supportive press (until the VA event). Any one of Obama’s misadventures, though, had they happened under a republican presidency, would have been hyped and exploited beyond recognition. Nixon tried to use the IRS, but was foiled at the get go. The unconscionable death of an ambassador, his aid and two others trying to rescue them in Benghazi, would have haunted and undone any other POTUS, except Obama. Assertions of gun-running from Libya through Turkey on to Syria have gone unnoticed by the MSM. However, there are those who say this covert action is similar to Iran/Contra, that was brought to light in the Reagan era. Bush was condemned for extracting info through ‘torture’ — three times. The contented press yawns at ‘kill lists’ perused by Obama, and drone assassinations of “US citizens.” The MSM relentlessly assaults republican presidents for UE numbers in the 4-5 range, and for poverty stats that now look dreamy in comparison to Obama’s.

The debt under Bush was maligned by Obama, as was raising the debt limit. Obama called it unpatriotic, then. Now, under his rule, the debt has doubled and the debt limit is expected by dems to go unchallenged. Dems screeched at Bush when he wanted to reform SS, and so he caved. Obama pushed an unpopular HC reform, but he persisted, unilaterally passing it, and broke all protocol in keeping it afloat through it’s ludicrous implementation. When a republican changes their mind on abortion or HC, they are called flip-floppers. When Obama changes his mind on gay marriage he is said to have evolved. Obama chastised republicans for their firm sequestration stance (something his administration divined in the first place), throwing aspersions at their principles in an attempt to stave off spending. However, when the deficit starting decreasing, and none of his dire predictions came true, Obama took credit for said deficit reduction.

This is way too long, I know. But, Obama’s contradictions, poor choices, brow-beating others when he should be more accountable, taking credit only for desirable outcomes, while passing the buck for the majority of undesirable outcomes, go far pass simply being a poor manager. He’s a lousy president!

michael reynolds May 31, 2014 at 6:24 am

Why is it that criticism of President Obama seems to always be deflected by going backwards and re-judging another president’s performance?

Because the Obama haters like you are so pathologically dishonest. That’s why. It’s all but impossible to have rational conversation with people who are blind to any and all context, who seethe when they should analyze. You and your ilk have never cared one whit for objectivity. Hate, hate, more hate. We’ve had six years of it. We’ll have two more. We’ll have it until the black man is out of the White House.

Dave Schuler May 31, 2014 at 7:43 am

Mr. Obama is not the first or worst but he ain’t the best either.

A good, succinct statement of my views. He’s responsible for what happens on his watch. Because it’s his watch. It doesn’t matter if his predecessor was worse, it doesn’t matter if it’s been going on for years, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t care to do it, it doesn’t matter if the Republicans are meanies, it doesn’t matter if it’s hard, it doesn’t matter if he didn’t know about it. It’s his watch.

steve May 31, 2014 at 10:57 am

Drew- You conflate problems. Obama decided to champion veterans in their effort to get into the system, especially for Agent Orange victims. He actually did that. I assume that he also signed off on the initiative to reduce wait times. As someone who runs things you know that you need buy in and you need resources. Obama may have assumed, or been led astray on both. I can certainly see where he would have a hard time believing than an organization largely run by vets would treat other vets badly. I am not sure you could or would anticipate that unless you had been a vet yourself.

Still, was he incompetent because he did not know what was going on? Then everyone is incompetent. I think you can judge better by the response. On that I think he has been slow, and his style has been criticized as being deliberative. I can live with that. It also means we have not bombed or gone to war when we should not.

“Why is it that criticism of President Obama seems to always be deflected by going backwards and re-judging another president’s performance?”

I would like to have consistent standards. Other presidents have had worse scandals and worse errors in judgment, yet they were not deemed incompetent. You didnt see regular pronouncements on the issue.

Your other comments are nonsense. The media covered those issues extensively. There were multiple investigations. The problem is that when you try to manufacture scandals you can only convince those who want to believe. Find some real evidence. Lastly, too much to go over, while you may think it is perfectly fine to run up even more debt when the economy appears to be performing well, many of us think that is the time to pay down debt. You support increasing debt while we are doing well and paying it down when the economy is weak. You are not alone in that policy preference, so I guess maybe we just pas it off as a normative preference.

Steve

steve May 31, 2014 at 11:10 am

BTW, Levin at NAtional Review gets at the problem with the VA. He is more blunt than James was, and actually seems to understand the VA a bit. Surprising.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/379141/veterans-affairs-scandal-yuval-levin

Dave Schuler May 31, 2014 at 11:25 am

The problem is that when you try to manufacture scandals you can only convince those who want to believe.

None of the scandals are manufactured. Some are exaggerated. Some Republicans are confusing failures of judgment with malfeasance but that’s not manufactured, either.

There are several that are substantial and cannot reasonably be claimed to be manufactured because there’s already been an acknowledgement of wrongdoing: the IRS thing and the VA thing. On the IRS matter the IG acknowledged wrongdoing more than a year ago. Whether it was misfeasance or malfeasance remains to be seen and the stonewalling of officals and the attitude of some Republicans (not to mention the White House) hasn’t helped in getting to the truth.

The preliminary report on the unfolding VA scandal has also found wrongdoing: fraudulent reporting at the very least.

Wrongdoing appears to have been a factor in the “gun-walking” policy also. Justice has stonewalled that one pretty persistently so we’ll probably never know the truth.

jan May 31, 2014 at 11:33 am

“It’s all but impossible to have rational conversation with people who are blind to any and all context, who seethe when they should analyze. You and your ilk have never cared one whit for objectivity. Hate, hate, more hate. We’ve had six years of it. We’ll have two more. We’ll have it until the black man is out of the White House.”

That paragraph says it all, regarding your own heightened partisanship and enormous hatred of political opposition to the ideas and policies you support. Of course racial animus always seems to be central to your arguments — the part where people’s disagreements with this president always radiate, according to you, from his blackness rather than his stances and performance. Unbiased conversations are not your forte, Michael.

I personally have also come to believe, through the last six years, that progressives have gone batty in their unreasonable POV. And, although the worthiness of most politicians these days, is subject to lots of criticism, IMO the dems are behaving more badly then the republicans, with their snark, deception and inability to own their own foibles and failures.

steve May 31, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Dave- The manufactured part is in trying to pin it to Obama. Do you really think the GOP cares if a few more guns got sold to Mexicans? Really? Ahh, but if they can link it to Obama they have a big deal. Benghazi was also real. They cut corners on the place. it was really a CIA operation and the CIA didnt provide timely help. They didnt have good back up plans. All publicly acknowledged. The GOP wants to prove that Obama stopped some miraculous SWAT team from arriving that could have been there within 15 minutes after it all started. They want to prove that the admin was out to hide all of the details for the seven remaining weeks until the election. The facts just dont bear this stuff out, so they keep trying to manufacture stuff. Yes, the IRS stuff happened. If they want to know what happened (I suspect they already do) just give Lerner immunity. Nope, they want to drag it out until the election so they can continue to claim Obama planned the whole thing.

Are you really sure there is stonewalling? I am not. A lot of this looks like Whitewater to me. Get your foot in the door then ask for anything and everything. If they dont give everything you ask for, you claim stonewalling. Maybe you can find out stuff about Obama by talking to some person who was 14 when he took office. You know, really relevant stuff. They want a Monica Lewinsky type scandal. They are hoping for at least a cabinet level officer being indicted for fraud or influence. They havent gotten it so they keep trying to manufacture something.

Steve

Dave Schuler May 31, 2014 at 5:00 pm

The manufactured part is in trying to pin it to Obama.

Oh, I agree with that. I don’t think that anything that’s come up reaches the level of “high crimes or misdemeanors” (to the extent that has an objective meaning) but they do harm Obama nonetheless at least in the sense mentioned by Ms. Noonan.

The reason I’m uncomfortable with characterizing them as “manufactured scandals” is that at least in the case of “Fast and Furious”, the IRS thing, and the VA thing, there are actual underlying offenses. Benghazi is manufactured in the sense that it’s a sad situation that resulted from serial miscalculations. Miscalculations are bad but not criminal.

CStanley June 1, 2014 at 7:34 am

It’s hard to imagine what would constitute a “real scandal” these days. There’s nothing that can’t be trumped up by opponents, but also nothing that can’t be spun and excused by supporters. Our partisanship has led to a loss of all objective standards.

steve June 1, 2014 at 9:13 am

Good point. It is hard to know what is true anymore. There are no doubt about it scandals like Iran-Contra or Lewinsky. The rest are more difficult to judge. The IRS problem, just to pick one, seems inevitable if you have 501′s where accountants are trying to figure out if groups are 51% or49% political. Do we blame Obama because he was in charge when it happened, or do we assign fault to those who set up this problematic system?

Steve

CStanley June 1, 2014 at 10:35 am

501s are not new. The bright line has always been that issue advocacy is allowed but campaigning for individual candidates is not.

The fact the apolitical accountants are doing the vetting should be a plus. It’s not rocket science, and should be a no-brainier to audit files randomly and not according to terms that are very easily used to skew toward one side or the other.

Aside from all that, Lerner admitted that they were using biased criteria from the get-go, and in the face of that it seems obvious that the president should be held accountable for addressing and correcting the situation.

steve June 1, 2014 at 12:55 pm

You make it sound too easy. There is no clear bright line. There is a theoretical line that they push against and it is difficult to tell when they are crossing it. Rocket science is much cleaner. The only way to sort it out is to ask lots of questions and take a lot of time, then get accused of delays. It is a system designed to fail.

I will agree that the current admin should try to fix it. The best fix would be to eliminate 501s.

Steve

jan June 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Benghazi is manufactured in the sense that it’s a sad situation that resulted from serial miscalculations. Miscalculations are bad but not criminal.

So, I guess you don’t see any ‘cover-up’ in this “sad situation” called Benghazi — only the result of “serial miscalculations?”

Then why didn’t the WH come right out and say who was behind this situation — terrorism, rather than a goofy internet film? Why didn’t the President give over his daily presidential log, like GWB did immediately after the 911 “sad situation?” Why have CIA agents, on the ground in Libya been muffled? Why was the only person so far negatively effected, taking the ‘accountability’ baton, the whistle blower?

So many ‘whys,’ IMO, that remain either unanswered or dismissed. If Nixon’s Watergate had been covered like Benghazi, would he have been forced to resign? Or, could he have simply staved off an incurious press (like the one investigating Benghazi) and simply have the whole unfortunate affair die off ?

Dave Schuler June 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm

If there was a cover-up, it was very brief—a week or so. I think that confusion, wishful thinking, error, and an instinctive urge to circle the wagons explains what happened in the aftermath of the attack better than some major plot.

jan June 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm

” I think that confusion, wishful thinking, error, and an instinctive urge to circle the wagons explains what happened in the aftermath of the attack better than some major plot.”

Dave, I’m really not trying to be argumentative about this issue, but have felt passionate from the get go, that there was more amiss than some bureaucratic snafu, miscalculation or innocent errors committed in this tragedy. The bottom line is that lives were lost, an ambassador killed (the 1st since the late ’70′s), and there remains conflict and holes as to what happened in Benghazi, and even why the ambassador remained in Benghazi, after so many previous terrorist threats that sent the Red Cross, the British and others packing.

It also seems inappropriately “odd” that going to a fundraiser seemed higher on the president’s agenda than being fully engaged in the aftermath of this many hours-long assault. His whereabouts during the attack, the actions he took are unknown to this day. The last conversation noted, between the POTUS and his SOS, was at 10 PM, when fighting was still ongoing in Benghazi, and the outcome inconclusive. However, it was only minutes later that the SOS informed people that the attack was primarily triggered by a “video,” when apparently intelligence knew within an hour that this was not the case — that it was a terrorist action. This video rationale, though, went on for weeks, being periodically repeated for public consumption on variousTV shows, at the UN, and to family members of the fallen when the bodies were returned home

Having multiple hearings and a supposed ARB report is of no consequence, if much of the information gleaned is either hazy, in dispute, or sloppily handled. It’s the quality as well as the completeness of the investigations, IMO that counts, not necessarily the duration or theatrics that eminent from public hearings.

Like I said in the previous post, why hasn’t the president handed over his daily briefings and notes regarding this occasion, like Bush did his after 911, if there was nothing to hide. Today, even Woodward said he asked for Obama’s diaries when he was earlier doing his research and was denied them. He went on to say every president keeps diaries, and when Reagan was asked for his during the intense Iran/Contra hearings, he gave them up. Nixon had to release his tapes. But, background info, school transcripts, WH diaries, secret political meetings, briefing notes all seem to be off limits, unless Obama chooses otherwise.

It’s simply striking to me that what we have asked, no, demanded, of other presidents, is waived for this one, and deemed irrelevant and only politically motivated, upon further questioning. Missing documentation, selectively handing over emails, when declared by some as stonewalling or foot-dragging are seen as mystifying reactions, or being out of line, for people like Steve. Perhaps his inquisitiveness threshold is lower than mine. Or, perhaps people like Steve just aren’t interested in any more discovery that may only dent the story being promulgated by the government.

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